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Roberta,Ken And The Pups Cruise The World On A Relatively Small Boat

GSSR#22 - Approaching Dutch Harbor

Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 2,257 nm
Nautical Miles to go: 3,019 nm
Tomorrow's goal: 275 nm

Greetings all!


This is a quick update on the GSSR group’s activities since leaving Geographic Harbor.



Prior to the trip, Roberta carefully plotted our route identifying possible anchorages. One of the anchorages she identified was called “Agrippina Bay.” It was approximately 100 nm west of Geographic Harbor and would make a nice 12 hour run on our way to Dutch Harbor. Although all of the boats are well prepared for overnight runs, it’s more fun, and more relaxing, to break the trip into shorter runs and drop anchor, or go into a port at night. Bill Harrington happened to be fishing in the area a few weeks ago, and had taken the time to visit Agrippina Bay, to check it out for us, and had even mapped out how all three boats could anchor.


The run couldn’t have been easier. We had reasonably strong winds, 15 to 20 knots, but they were at our back, and not a factor. We also had a strong current, perhaps only 1 knot, but with us for the entire run.


As we arrived at Agrippina Bay, Braun Jones, from Grey Pearl, came on the VHF radio, and said he had something he wanted to discuss. Braun said that the weather was turning against us, and that we should consider just continuing rather than stopping for the night. We had been running for 12 hours, we were looking right at the anchorage, and Braun wanted us to run another 24 hours, to our next stop: Sand Point, Alaska. We were all disappointed, but Braun was right. We had following seas, a current going the right direction, easy gentle waves, and good momentum. Why would we stop? It took about 10 seconds for everyone to vote “Let’s keep going!”.


A couple of hours later, a sleepy Bill came up the stairs and asked what was happening. He looked disappointed when we said we weren’t stopping at Agrippina. I felt bad for him after all the work he had done to research the anchorage, but there was no doubt that we made the right decision.


The next morning, we had an incident that was quite a wakeup call….


We were running 20 or so miles offshore, in 200 feet of water, when Roberta noticed the bottom start coming up sharply. My first thought was that something was wrong with the depth gauge. I immediately looked at the chart, and saw that there was no shallow water around. Looking back at the depth gauge, we were now at 40’. My first reaction was that we weren’t where we thought we were. Uh oh!!!! I looked again at the depth gauge, and in horror saw 27 feet! Sans Souci is 7 feet deep, so we weren’t in danger of bottoming out, except that if the bottom had risen from 200 feet to 27 feet in under a minute, contact with the ground could be imminent. Luckily, the water started getting deeper just as quickly as it had shallowed.  After pulling back the throttles, I jumped on the radio to Grey Pearl and Seabird, who were following me a half mile back, alerting them of the potential danger. All three boats made an immediate turn to port, towards deeper water, and studied their depth gauges. I triple checked my location, and we were where we thought we were. The charts were wrong. We had just found an uncharted shallow spot.


All three boats agreed to immediately change our plan, and move a couple miles farther out to sea, where the depths averaged over 400 feet. We didn’t find any other shallow spots, and there was no further excitement, but that was plenty for one day.




Studying the charts closer I noticed that several of the islands around here have large spaces around them with no depths. Naively, I had assumed that if there were something important to know, it would be on the chart. For instance, on the chart snippet above, of the island Mitrofania, which we passed by, you’ll notice that there are large gaps around the island where Nobeltec does not show depths. The paper charts also show sparse depth readings. There is a small print warning on the bottom of the chart which says:


“WARNING – Preliminary Chart. The hydrography on this preliminary chart is of varying degrees of quality. In the areas of sparse soundings many of the depths were taken by lead lines in the 1900s, so further uncharted shoals are likely. […] Navigators should use this chart with extreme caution. ”


I’d call that fine print worth reading, and internalizing. As I’ve said before, the indications that we really have fallen off the end of the earth are becoming more frequent. We have lost television, and even our old friend Sirius radio. Our internet is still hanging in there, but for how much longer?



Thirty-six hours after departing Geographic Harbor, a very tired GSSR fleet tied to the dock in Sand Point, Alaska, a small 952 person town on Popov Island.



When entering the harbor, the port was sitting empty. It is a beautiful facility, but looked like a ghost town. We were essentially the only boats there. When I spoke to the harbormaster the prior day he had warned me to expect this. Sand Point is a fishing town. The local economy is driven by fishing. Salmon season was open, which meant all the boats were out fishing. It was slated to end the next evening, and all the boats would come back to port. Overlooking the harbor is a giant cannery which dominates both the port and the local economy.



We have Bill Harrington on board, who had been into Sand Point many times before, and seemed to know all 952 residents. Within minutes of docking, word had spread through town that Bill was on the docks, and his friends started streaming onto the dock to greet him. For writing this blog, I asked Bill how I should describe Sand Point, and its residents. He thought for a minute and said: “These are some of the friendliest people in the world.” Statistically speaking, the town is evenly mixed between Native Americans  and Caucasian-Americans. I don’t have enough data to say if there is a pattern, but I met several fisherman who moved to the island after stopping here and taking a local wife. I can vouch for the friendliness of the locals. When hiking into town, Roberta and I were offered a ride by a passing truck, and had a hard time convincing the occupants we’d rather walk.




Tying to the docks was interesting. Instead of just tying to the cattle rails, as we’ve done at other ports, there are wooden blocks that you put a loop around. I’ve included a picture so that you can see what I mean. I’ve never seen this before, and when Bill explained it to me, I said “Huh?”. I’m still not clear on why this is good.



Scenes from around Sand Point.




We are well past the point where there are no more trees (conifers). However, there are a couple here on the island, I’m sure imported as seeds from a long ways away. There are three eagle nests in this one tree!




A Russian Orthodox church, dating back to 1933.




This signpost really blew me away. Note that it says Juneau is 1,011 miles away. It seems like we were just there! How could we have come so far???? Even stranger, Roberta mentioned tonight that we are now west of Hawaii! If we were to head directly south, we are over a hundred miles further along than Hawaii. Incredible.



In an amazing coincidence, I ran into a friend of Bill’s, Jim Brown, who mentioned that he was renting an office to some Australians who were working with NOAA to produce accurate charts for the Aleutians.  Given that we had just been reminded that the charts cannot be trusted, I asked Jim if he could introduce me to the Australians. I had a long list of questions, starting with “How much trouble are we in?”


The scientist I met with explained the process they are using to map the ocean’s bottom. Simply put, they fly a plane over the ocean, close to the surface, pointing a laser at the bottom. In order to get a large number of soundings (depths) they fly a pattern over the area being mapped. Above you see a piece of a chart for some islands about 50 miles from Sand Point, that are in the process of being mapped. Each of the lines represents a path to be flown, and each line is separated by only 300 feet from the next line. It’s a slow time consuming process, and will take years before the data collected will find itself on maritime charts. When asked how much I could trust the charts in the Aleutians, the Australian said “Not at all, mate. We will be going there next year.” Oh boy.

Actually, I spoke with Bill after the meeting with the Australians, and he said that the charts in the Aleutians, particularly where we'll be, are quite good. The American navy was based in the Aleutians during WWII, and needed good charts for their own use.


Sans Souci does have forward-looking sonar. That said, I’m not sure if I can use it at all times or not. It protrudes a couple of feet from the bottom of the boat. Think of it as an upside down periscope, poking down from an 18 inch hole in the bottom of the boat. Were I to hit a log, or a whale, and snap off the sonar, I’d not only lose the sonar, I’d still have the 18 inch hole. It’s not a pleasant thought. Also, in these waters, I worry about slamming off a wave, and snapping off the sonar unit. Thus far, I’ve limited the use of sonar to slow speed entrances to strange bays and narrow channels. Running it in the open Pacific is a different kettle of fish, and I want to do some talking to Furuno (the manufacturer) before taking any risks. For now, the GSSR strategy is a simple one. Whereas before, we were happy to cruise in water a couple hundred feet deep, now we’re thinking we’ll push farther off shore, and into much deeper water.  


As great as Sand Point is, three days is plenty. There are exactly three restaurants. Denise’s, on the port, a little diner, that is really quite good, but open very limited hours. A Chinese place up in town, which we ate at a couple of times, and Bozo’s Burgers, which is better than it sounds. There is also a pub, which is about what one might expect a pub in  a fishing town might be like. Roberta and I felt out of place in the pub, despite everyone working double duty to make us feel welcome. Two sips of red wine, and back to the boat.


As I’m typing this, here is the weather report:






Our original plan was to only stay overnight, but we’ve been here for three days. As you can see above, there is a west wind, at 25 knots, meaning we’ll be going straight into 25 knots of wind, and 11 foot seas. This is certainly within what the boats can handle, but we’re less certain about our stomachs. The winds will subside on Monday but remain against us. We have a 36 hour run to Dutch Harbor. We may make the run non-stop, or we may stop somewhere along the way. We really don’t know. It will depend on how badly we are being beat up.


And, on a completely different topic…




Kirt Ahlquist, one of our crew, wanted to try out his dive gear. While in the marina he dived under all three of the GSSR boats. He found a surprise on Sans Souci’s port propeller; a rope! I have no idea how long it has been there, and really haven’t noticed any extra vibration,  but am thrilled that he found it!


That’s it for today. Next stop Dutch Harbor! (maybe…)


Thank you,

Ken Williams

N6805, Sans Souci



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